The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Power Of Ssssshhhhh …
February 23, 2012, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

The good thing about adland is that it’s full of people who like to listen.

The bad thing is that quite often, the thing they like to listen to the most, is their own voice.

And trust me, if anyone can say that, it’s me.

There was a scene in the movie 13 Days that had quite an effect on me.

It was when JFK had all his military advisors in a room, asking for their views and ideas of what to do regarding the build up of missiles in Cuba.

One by one, he heard representatives of the navy, army and air force express their opinion.

Then he listened to each of his Government advisors as they explained their point of view.

After all this – and only after all this – did he say what he thought and what they would do.

And what he decided they would do was not based on the recommendations of most of the people in the room.

He didn’t do this to cause offense.

He didn’t do this because he was weak.

He didn’t do this because he had no opinion of his own.

He did this because he valued the perspective of his colleagues in the room and appreciated that their background, expertise and unique viewpoint could change, impact or influence his decision.

Then he made his decision.

And explained why.

That’s leadership.

And that’s why it’s good to listen to your colleagues before you listen to your own voice – because at the end of the day, as long as you have good people working for you, you’ll be able to make better, more rounded and more effective decisions which will lead to better work, more acclaim, better job offers, more money and the delusion you’re even better than your already massive ego has deluded you into thinking you are.

Do You Know Your Neighbours …
February 22, 2012, 6:08 am
Filed under: Comment

I am passionately against sitting in departments.

I absolutely loathe planners sitting together … creatives sitting together … suits sitting together … etc etc.

I accept there are positives that come from it, but I believe there are even more positives not doing it.

From a planners perspective … it means you can’t fall into some pseudo-intellectual bullshit bubble … it means you stay connected to what is actually going on with the clients and the agency … it means you can contribute to conversations in real-time … it means you can hear – learn – different views and perspectives and, possibly most importantly, it means you can start forming deeper relationships with the people who ultimately can make your life a breeze or utter, fucking, hell.

Now I appreciate if you work in a company that departmentalises their office space, there’s not much you can do about it however if that’s the case – and even if it’s not – one thing you might be able to pull off is a ‘random desk swap’.

We’ve done it here a few times … where for one week, every planner swaps seats with another planner in the office for a day.

Every day, a new desk.

Every day, a new view.

Every day, a new set of colleagues.

Every day, a new set of conversations.

Of course, everyone else in the agency either [1] thinks you’re a fucking nutcase or [2] complains they can’t find you … but for such a simple exercise, you get quite a bit our of it.

You get to know more of your colleagues.

You get to know more of your colleagues a bit better.

You get to have brand new conversations about brand new things.

You get to hear some fresh thinking and some new viewpoints.

You get to see how the office works from different perspectives.

You get to be a sad bastard by realising you miss your old desk … old seat … and old colleagues.

We all get connected to certain things in our office … little memento’s that turn a desk into a sort of 2nd home [which is bloody scary if you think about it] … however doing something new, even if it’s just for a week, isn’t going to kill you and you might just find that you’re better off for the experience.

Unless you end up sat next to Ryan in our office. He’s a fucking nightmare.

The Good News …
February 21, 2012, 5:09 am
Filed under: Comment

The bad news, it’s only for the day.

A Little Reminder For Anyone Who Has Woken Up This Monday Morning And Started Stressing About What They Have To Do, Who They Have To Do It For And What Their Life Is Becoming …
February 20, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

How To Outrun The Inevitable …
February 17, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

There are a lot of agencies out there.

In China alone, there’s said to be tens of thousands.


However amongst all those – not in China, but generally – there’s a few that have a ‘global’ name.

Traditionally, they fall into 2 camps:

Those who are living off their legacy and those creating it.

Yes, that’s harsh – and there’s a whole host of reasons for it – but that’s pretty much how it feels.

Of course, these two states are in a constant state of motion … one good campaign can lift an agency from the past to the present and vice versa … however the agencies that tend to have the greatest momentum are the ones that seemingly are continuously creating their legacy rather than riding on their past.

Now in no way am I suggesting an agency purposefully ‘takes a back seat’ – there are many reasons why that can happen – however the point of this post is that as much as there are many agencies out there who are grabbing a bunch of the headlines right now, there’s 2 that are seemingly always at the forefront of commercial creativity.

BBH and W+K

Now without doubt there are some fundamental differences between the 2 companies – some good, some not so good – however the thing I find fascinating are their commonalities, of which a number of them, I believe, have directly enabled them to succeed while others have fallen.

I should point out that what I’m about to write is my perception.

The fact is I’ve never worked at BBH and while I know many of the guys there very well – I am still basing my views on observation and here-say.

And as for W+K. Well while I have had the pleasure of meeting Dan and his senior management team, we’ve not really talked about this sort of thing … most of the time I’m getting bollocked for something.

But that aside, here are 5 things that have made these agencies so creatively influential for so long.

1. Consistent Management.

The guys who run both these agencies have been at these agencies a long time.

Better yet, they are the people who founded these agencies – so they have a vested interest in maintaining the culture of the place rather than just go after the profit, regardless of the implication.

That said, they are constantly introducing new people into positions of influence and power.

Younger people. Talented people.

People who bring new perspectives and thinking to the table so while the principals of the company will stay the same, the expression of it is at the forefront of the times.

2. Control, Not Controlled.

In short, when you own your company rather than a holding company with masses of shareholders, you can control how your company grows and where your company goes.

Basically, control means you can focus on the longer-term, bigger play rather than purely focusing on hitting the next quarterly target.

It’s probably the best ad for communism you could have, ha.

3. A Willingness To Fail.

Both agencies try stuff.

Better yet, the want to try stuff.

There is a reluctance to rest on their laurels.

This isn’t just because they believe to stick with what you know is the surest way to future failure, but because they are adventurous by nature and they believe great things happen from experimentation, even if on first impressions, the result is not quite what they hoped.

They also put their money where their mouth is.

They don’t expect clients to fund their adventures into the unknown, they’ll pay for it … be it in the activities they do or the people they hire.

For both, failure is NOT trying stuff.

4. Culture, Not Function

When I first joined W+K, people talked about it’s unique culture.

To be honest, I’ve heard this sort of thing before and almost always it’s turned into a crock of shit … because the culture that was there was because of the people in the place rather than the company.

But in W+K and BBH’s case, I believe it’s true.

Sure, the people that work there enhance and develop that culture, but there’s a strong philosophical view that permeates every element of both companies.

It’s not about the press releases or the credentials deck … it’s about their standards … their expectations … their beliefs.

They actively encourage trying new things … exploring new approaches … not going for the lowest-common-denominator or the category convention … standing up for what they believe in …

In short, it’s about filling their company with interesting and creative people who share their beliefs [even if they express it in radically different ways], rather than simply those who can perform a specific job function at the lowest price.

5. Involvement, Not Observation.

Northern wrote a blog post recently where he said he was convinced the reason older, senior people lose their dynamism and originality is because no one challenges them and they don’t get in enough situations to be told something they don’t know.

Very true.

However one thing I really like about W+K is that while the senior guys are ridiculously talented and smart and experienced … they welcome opinion, debate and challenge. From everyone. Literally everyone.

I remember the first time I met Dan and John and had an ‘out of body experience’ where I saw myself telling, arguably 2 of the most respected ad guys in history a bunch of stuff I think we should be doing.

OK, so Dan said, “you’re fired” … but he listened and that’s more than many would do.

The other thing is they are all deeply involved in what’s going on.

Not in the sense of dictating outcomes or decisions, but being part of the chaos – contributing, listening, exploring.

Sure that doesn’t happen on every single piece of business on every single campaign, but you’d be amazed how knowledgable about what’s going on. Seriously, you just need 2 minutes in the company of Dan or John or Dave etc and you know that they are absolutely bursting with dynamism and originality, even though by the protocol adopted by many agencies, they should be put out to pasture by now.

Why are they like this?

Because they still care. I honestly think it’s that simple.

They still want to learn. They still want to do stuff. They still want to push boundaries.

It’s fantastic and I honestly believe that one of the reasons this is the case is because they seek out people they regard as talented and interesting … people who can push them … their colleagues … their clients … and their agency to a different place.

Not being scared of change or youth or provocation shows people who are very confident with who they are … which for all the ego and posturing that goes on in this industry, is very rare indeed.

Of course you might think this is all bollocks … and maybe it is, however I can tell you from my time at W+K and my relationship with BBH that I see all this time and time again.

Sure it’s not always perfect, sure there have been some bad mistakes – but that aside – the fact they have been at the forefront of mass market commercial creativity means they must be doing something right … something few other companies have been able to pull off over 30 odd years which is why I honestly believe these are things we could all benefit from following or learning – whether we work in a company or want to start our own.

Making money is not hard.

Being the creative industry darling for a moment in time, is not out of the reach for all.

However making money while sticking to your principals and being an acknowledged leader in [effective] creativity for 3 decades is, and that’s why W+K and BBH stand out from the crowd.

While both agencies shun propriety processes in favour of being judged by what they do [rather than what they say they do] … the reality is you can’t ignore how their principals, philosophies and approach have directly contributed and impacted to the work that so many of us [general public, not just adland] hold in the highest esteem.

Saying “it’s all about the work”, might make a nice headline that people can gravitate to, but a great creative legacy starts way before the brief lands on the table.